Russian government officials were overheard talking about potentially "derogatory" information about Donald Trump in conversations intercepted by U.S. intelligence agents during the presidential election campaign, according to a new report.
The discussion centered on whether Russia held leverage over Trump's inner circle, and the intercepted communications suggested to U.S. intelligence officials that Russia believed "they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information," reported CNN.
The report is based on information revealed by two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.
The sources cautioned that the Russian claims may have been exaggerated or even made up as part of a disinformation campaign, but U.S. intelligence services believed the conversation showed a clear intent by Russia to influence the presidential election between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
CNN reported May 19 that U.S. intelligence agents intercepted conversations between Russian officials bragging that they could use Mike Flynn, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign and then briefly the national security adviser, to influence Trump.
The New York Times followed up on that story and reported that Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was also discussed as possible agent of influence.
Manafort, who has extensive business ties with pro-Kremlin officials in Ukraine, has denied receiving illicit finances or any other wrongdoing in his work for Trump.
The White House denied the latest CNN report as "yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the president," and claimed a review of his finances from the last 10 years showed no financial ties at all.